I Just Don't Get It (But Sometimes I Do)

By Jeff Hendershott

Ok, I admit, there are a lot of things millions of people seem to love that I just don't get.  Some examples of this are the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, golf, Disney World, most, no, all popular TV sitcoms and "reality shows," American Idol, Jim Carey and country music.

Does this mean I'm RIGHT and they are WRONG?  No!  It must be the other way around.  I gotta believe I'm the odd-ball and accept it.  After all, I'm greatly out numbered!

Lately, there have been many movies shown on TV that have been around awhile.  I love good movies.  Be that as it may, I've opted to not watch many of them because, well, "I just don't get it."  However, there are some "gems" (again, my opinion) I must comment upon.

OK, admittedly, I'm aping Jonah's "Movie Review" articles.  I doubt he will mind, even if he doesn't agree with my opinions (why I dig Jonah, he and I differ on some things but all in good fun).  It's not like any of this is real, anyway.

So, allow me to begin by listing the movies that I HAVE seen but detest.  Here again, many of these movies have won more awards than Patton had medals, so naturally, and I admit, I must be wrong because I just don't get itÖ

Titanic - No matter where you stand on this movie, you can't but help appreciate the masterful special effects of this period-piece turned predictable love story.  The special effects and cinematography are awesome.  But from there, I have nothing good to say about the script, acting and directing.  It is God-awful!  Well, no, not totally.  James Lancaster, our beloved Col. Fremantle from the movie "Gettysburg," makes a cameo as a Catholic Priest giving the "Hail Mary" while the ship is going down.  Aside from that, I've seen better high school plays, yet people knocked themselves down at the theaters to see this flick over and over and over.  You may have all you wish!  Oh, and when Leonardo What's His Name sunk to the bottom of the ocean at the end of the movie, I was quite pleased (only to see him resurface to fudge up later movies).

Gangs of New York - I had high expectations of this flick.  In fact, it's the first movie I ever went out and purchased in DVD form before I had seen it in the theaters.  I'd give it a grade of C.  The historical aura of this little known piece of American history came across, and Daniel Day-Lewis delivered a stellar performance as always.  I particularly liked the end of the movie when mid-19th Century New York faded away on screen to a modern shot of the city.  Kind of cool.  However, I was disappointed overall in this film.  Not sure exactly why, but probably because of the time wasted seeing - once again - Leonardo What's His Name "getting the girl" (and a little more, if you get my meaning).  Really, doesn't this motif become redundant to you?  Sure does to me.

Braveheart - Ivory Tower scholars have picked this movie apart for its authenticity.  I don't really care about that when it comes to this movie.  And I'm actually somewhat of a Mel Gibson fan.  But this movie just didn't click for me, and I think I know why.  I damn near turned it off when some "soldier" slit the throat of Gibson's honey while she was tied to the stake.  I guess I'm getting squeamish in my middle age, but what that really necessary?  I had nightmares when Robert Shaw met the shark at the end of "Jaws," so I guess I have little belly for blood and guts (at least seeing the innocent get mutilated for no good reason).  So the end of Braveheart, for me, was total torture.  Yea, it's just film, but I'm not into vivid depiction's of "drawing and quartering."  Yes, I know that's how punishment was meted out "back in the day."  But I can do without it.  Millions loved it, and that disturbs me for some reason.

Cold Mountain - OK, going into this, I knew it was a "Chick Flick," something we of the reenacting bent typically detest.  So I set the bar low and wasn't disappointed.  If anything, I was surprised and quite pleased with the cinematography and authenticity of the "war" part of the movie, particularly the depiction of The Crater at the beginning.  That deserves a "huzzah" in my book.  However, the rest of the movie could have been written by Daniell Steel and no one would have been any the wiser.  Donald Sutherland tried to salvage some of this predictable script, but he died way too soon.  It sucked!

Patriot - A movie I love and hate.  I love the battles (I seem to tolerate blood and guts in a war setting - I guess I expect it).  I like the settings and a lot of the acting is very good.  Gibson's character is a bit bizarre, going from a Revolutionary War "Rambo" at one moment and a compassionate, humble, family-loving family man the next.  Gibson tends to go over the top in this film each time one of his kids gets "offed" by the ruthless British officer bent on raping and pillaging (yes, there WAS such a person during the Revy War, a Brit by the name of Tarleton, I think, who threw the rules of "polite" war to the side and went tear-assing throughout the south).  But again, Patriot features multiple "love stories" into the script, seemingly a mandatory drill in Hollywierd so as to get the teenagers with disposable income to fill the theater seats.

Gods and Generals - If there is one saving grace to this mega-disaster, it is definitive proof-positive that "Tubby Bearded Guys" do not make good extras in a period-piece set before the fast-food era.

The Alamo - Another huge disappointment.  I give it a "B" for effort, and a "D" for results.  Watch this and "Gods and Generals" back to back if you are suffering from insomnia.  I'd rather watch my tapes of Ala"moe" Howard and the Three Stooges (a lot more educational AND entertaining!).  Reminds me what a friend said about the movie "Tombstone": "It's the MTV version of 'Wyatt Earp.'"

Beguiled - Probably the most surreal, twisted Civil War era film ever made featuring a young Clint Eastwood as an injured Union soldier who finds - what he thinks - is refuge in a southern home of younger women and girls (although I can't remember if it was a girls school or what).  Anyway, the home is run by sinister Geraldine Page.  Eastwood ends up poisoned by eating mushrooms, his favorite dish as the girls find out, so they pick him a bogus batch of poisonous mushrooms.  A "just" end to a soldier who ends up "falling" for the wrong female in the house.  Really, not a bad movie if you like dark and grim motifs.  So I'm glad I watched it once (and that was enough).

Now it's time to give Hollywierd some credit!  Strangely, some of these are cable TV-produced movies.  I'll try and stay away from straight Civil War movies which we, as reenactors, have a hard time being unbiased (save for "Gods and Generals"), but Iíve got to mention a couple, like...

Andersonville - A Turner Network Television mini-series in 1996, this is my favorite period piece movie of all time.  I'm sure a lot of that has to do with my fascination and study of Civil War prisons.  That bias I admit.  But save for actors such as William H. Macy and veteran character actor Fredrick Forrest as Sgt. McSpatin, it goes to prove that you don't need a Tom Hanks or a "star-studded cast" to make a great picture.  Director John Frankenheimer took some "Hollywierd Liberties" with some of the facts (like this should be a surprise by now).  And I believe he could have gone a little further with making life in the stockade seem more brutal than he depicted.  But the script was excellent and you could tell the actors went balls-out to do it right.  So many people that I've loaned my copy to have said "I can't believe that happened here in America!"  That in itself makes the movie worthy of note.

The Day Lincoln Was Shot - Another TNT production, circa 1998.  I like this one a lot despite some problems.  Lance Henrickson is a fine actor, and certainly LOOKED like Lincoln in this film, but Lincoln didn't have the deep gravely voice of Henrickson (nitpicky, I know).  But he played the part well.  Some of the camera angles were MTV-ish (giving me that motion sickness feeling one gets riding a roller coaster).  Rob Morrow did Booth excellently.  In fact, I can't think of a single weak performance in this film.  The scene where Lincoln (Henrickson) and son Tad visit Richmond after its fall still sends chills up my spine.  Lots of atmosphere in this flick.  A great effort.

Master and Commander - I mentioned this film in passing in another article.  Another movie where I bought it before seeing it, and this time it didn't end up in my garage sale.  Another movie with a lot of atmosphere and stellar acting.  Russell Crowe's best performance in my opinion (sans maybe "Gladiator").  Being a born-again Revolutionary War fanatic, I think this may have played into my attraction to this movie.  Yea, I know, Master and Commander is not about the Revy War, but close.  The British accents are thick and one needs to really pay attention to the script (or watch it over and over as I have).  Excellent period high seas adventure movie that didn't get enough credit in my book.

We Were Soldiers - Generally a chronicle of the first major combat of Vietnam, this baby packs a wallop!  Excellent human interest story interwoven with history, and if the combat scenes in this movie do not keep you on the edge of your seat, check for a pulse!  Mel Gibson is fantastic as the leader of the fresh troops taking on "Charlie" for the first time and Sam Elliot's performance as a hardened master sergeant is stellar, if somewhat understated.  The haunting soundtrack adds to the drama of this excellent film and according to Vietnam vets I've spoken to, perhaps the most authentic Vietnam war film to date.

Gladiator - I have a soft spot for really good ancient history be it read, documented, or filmed.  Russell Crowe's character is somewhat Rambo-ish, but saved by a script that keeps it on a leash.  Richard Harris - one of my all-time favorites - dies way too soon in the film but was outstanding as was Joaquin Phoenix as the new yet plotting emperor of Rome.  My research shows that despite the brutality of Roman society and the "games" what went on inside the great stadiums, not everyone who stepped into the ring was walking into an automatic death sentence.  That misrepresentation aside, what an excellent piece of film-making!

Traffic - Not exactly a "period piece," although future generations may look back on it as a social commentary of our time.  Essentially it's a statement about the futility of the "war on drugs" in our society where the "war" is paid basically lip-service and no one is immune to its reach.  A very grim and dark movie, although excellently acted and written in this day and age of fluff, unfunny "comedy" and Leonardo Whatís His Name making out with the latest starlet.

Quiz Show - Yes, that's right! I had no idea this was based on a true story about the infamous "Quiz Show Scandals" of the golden era of television.  Robert Redford directs and Rob Morrow as well as Ralph Fennes turn in great performances.  John Turretto as Herbie Stempel cracks me up every time I watch it.  Check it out (which is why I'm not telling you much about the storyline).

OK, OK, enough of me and my opinions.  I certainly could go on in both categories, but you get the idea I suppose.  Please, if you know of any really GOOD films, period or otherwise that I may have missed, drop me a line at historynut@bright.net or send me your lists of favorites and not-so-favorites.  Maybe we can save each other some money and time otherwise wasted on lousy movie-making, a Hollywierd trademark these days!